Analysis Paralysis: How to Eliminate Overthinking and Get More Done

According to Bond (2004) , analysis paralysis involves “putting too much emphasis on the analytical decision-making process to the point where you’re stuck”. You probably recognise the feeling — you have a task to complete, but instead of focusing your full attention on the job at hand, you find yourself obsessing about past mistakes with similar jobs, wondering how you can exceed expectations or worrying about how you might not make your deadline. You have yet to begin the project, but you’re exhausted already from all the ruminating about it!

Worrying, over-thinking and over-analysing can have a detrimental effect on your efficiency in life (not to mention the negative impact on your mood). The more time you spend over-thinking, the less time you have to devote to the tasks you need to complete. Should I start the report with an executive summary? … This deadline is unrealistic … It’s not fair for my boss to expect so much from me … Everyone else seems to be coping with their workload … Why am I having trouble meeting expectations? … Should I include graphs and tables? … I’ll never get this report done on time … What if I lose my job? In essence, you unintentionally develop self-fulfilling prophecies: for example after all the time wasted worrying and over-thinking the task, you fail to meet your deadline, not because you’re inept but because you spent too much time thinking and not enough doing.
The causes of over-thinking vary from person to person and situation to situation: a lack of self-confidence, bad experiences, anxiety and perfectionism are but a few. No matter the cause, though, you can reduce your over-thinking and improve your efficiency in 6 simple steps.

How to Eliminate Over-thinking and Get More Done

1. Plan to Avoid Pervasive Pondering

Square up to your task with a detailed plan of attack. Develop your plan on paper rather than create a plan in your head because putting pen to paper gives your mind something tangible on which to focus, so you are less likely to let your mind wander. Secondly, having a hardcopy plan wastes less time once immersed in the project because you can simply consult the plan to determine the following step instead of needing to think about what you had planned next, which would further divert your attention.

When drawing up your plan, break the task down into bite-size chunks and create a schedule to ensure that you will achieve all your goals in the allocated time. The key here is to be realistic. Setting yourself achievable goals and accomplishing them will boost your confidence and mute the over-thinking overture playing in your head.

2. Replace the What If Questions

Even though you now have a detailed plan, your mind may still wander to thosewhat if questions; for example, what if I mess up the reportwhat if I can’t meet the deadlinewhat if I lose my job? Often we answer these questions, which lead to more questions: What if I lose my job? I’ll have to find another one. But what if I can’t? I’ll not be able to pay the mortgage and probably lose the house! Instead of answering what if questions, simply replace them with what can I do to avoid that situation questions. Your answers will inevitably return your attention to the plan you created in Step 1.

3. Be Present

If you are stuck in over-analysis paralysis, you are definitely not present. Being present, or being in the moment, allows you to derive the greatest benefit from the situation at hand, be it work or life-related. As your mind begins to wander away from your task, draw your attention back by using your five senses. For instance, at work, while creating a spreadsheet, if you begin to obsess about the dinner party you need to prepare for the following day, use your five senses to draw your attention back to the moment. See the vibrant colours of the graphics in your report, hear the low hum of the monitor, smell the sweetness of the flowering violet on your desk, taste the richness of the freshly brewed coffee and feel the smoothness of the keys at your fingertips. Learning the art of being present is a process; don’t expect to become a master on your first attempt. As with most challenges in life, the trick is perseverance.

4. Allow for Adjustments

Developing the perfect foolproof plan in Step 1 is ideal but not always likely. Life inevitably gets in the way, so some days you won’t be able to meet your objectives. The key here is not to fall back into your familiar patterns of over-thinking and obsessing. Simply return to the plan and adjust the schedule to slot in today’s unfinished work. That way you can rest assured that you still have enough time to complete the project.

5. Take a Break

Be sure that you schedule breaks in your plan, especially when working on longer projects. Most of us feel guilty to take a break or enjoy ourselves when we know we have a heap of work to plough through. Each time the guilt gremlins invade, remind yourself that over-working actually makes you less effective in your work. Focusing solely on work for extended periods leads to fatigue. Thus, allow yourself to enjoy the time away from work to rejuvenate your body, mind and soul.

6. Get out of your head!

Lastly, one of the simplest ways to kick over-analysis in the butt is to get out of your head. What do I mean? Do something physical that reconnects you with your body or your heart. Exercise is always great for this but alternatives include stretching, a form of creativity such as painting, cuddling a loved one or pet or even doing a physical task like clearing out your desk. The key is to reconnect with your body and heart to help sever the emotional and thinking patterns.

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